“He Returned to”

Alan C. Miner

Keith Christensen asserts that the saying “his own house” connotes a significant situation, for own means “peculiar to oneself.” While Lehi had “his house” (see 1 Nephi 2:4) presumably for “his” family, he might have also had “his own house” (1 Nephi 1:7) at Jerusalem. This distinction is significant in locating his land of inheritance. Rich men in all ages have had family homes in rural areas and had their own houses in cities for business or politics. Their rural homes, particularly in ancient times, are frequently the places they were born, and the places where their families had lived for generations. For example, Arimathea, situated six miles from Jerusalem, was the home of Joseph of Arimathea, who buried Jesus’ body in his own tomb. He was a “rich man” on the ruling Sanhedrin who had not agreed to killing Jesus (Matthew 27:57). What is significant here is that Joseph’s tomb was in Jerusalem, indicating that he might have been established there (having a house of “his own” for business), yet his “home” was in or near Arimathea. Lehi could have been in a similar situation. (B. Keith Christensen, The Unknown Witness, pp. 45-46, unpublished]

“His Own House at Jerusalem”

Camille Fronk notes that archaeologists have uncovered well-built homes inside walled Jerusalem, in a section of the city called the City of David. These homes date to the seventh century B.C. and show signs of being destroyed by fire at the time of the Babylonian invasion in 586 B.C. Although Lehi and Sariah most likely lived in another sector of the city, these contemporary homes give us an idea of the comparative luxury their family would have known.

One of those uncovered houses was a four room, two-story building with substantial pillars supporting the roof and dressed limestone blocks framing the doorways. The house measured 24 by 36 feet. A “service wing,” made up of three tiny rooms behind the home, contained an indoor toilet and quarters for servants. Remains of other “better” homes in Jerusalem indicate that residents owned chairs, tables, beds, numerous clay oil lamps, an oven, stone structures for storing grain, and clay vessels for storing liquids. Decoration in the form of pictorial art, faience vases, glass beads, carved ivory plaques, decorated pottery, and metal art products adorned nicer homes. [Camille Fronk, “Desert Epiphany: Sariah & the Women in 1 Nephi,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 9, Num. 2, 2000, FARMS, pp. 7-8, 80]

“He Returned to His Own House at Jerusalem”

According to Jeffrey Chadwick, the Book of Mormon text not only specifies that Lehi “dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days” (1 Nephi 1:4), but that Lehi had “his own house at Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 1:7). Based on archaeological, geographical, and historical evidence accumulated from the study of the old tribal areas of Manasseh, Ephraim, Judah and Jerusalem, Chadwick postulates the following:

1. Lehi’s (and Ishmael’s) ancestral grandparents must have moved from the Manasseh/Ephraim area around 722 B.C., due to the pressure of the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom.

2. These ancestors must have moved to Jerusalem either immediately or within a very few years of their initial journey southward, and would have settled among the people of the Mishneh neighborhood that was annexed to the city with the building of Hezekiah’s Wall prior to 701 B.C.

3. Being essentially landless, Lehi’s grandparents would not have been able to farm for a living in the restricted area of Judah around Jerusalem. At some point, the family appears to have turned to the craft of metal smithing to make their living (see John Tvedtnes, “Was Lehi a Caravaneer?” F.A.R.M.S., 1984)

4. Had Lehi’s ancestral grandparents moved from the Manasseh region to the Judean countryside or to any city or town outside Jerusalem, and established residence there, they would almost surely have been deported away from Judah in the Assyrian attack on Judah in 701 B.C. for it says that “Sennacherib king of Assyria [came] up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them” (2 Kings 18:13-14; compare Isaiah 36:1) Also from the “Prism of Sennacherib” we find: “As to Hezekiah the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled fortresses, and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered by means of well stamped ramps and battering rams … . I drove out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, … His towns which I had plundered I took away from his country and gave them to Mitinti king of Ashdod, Padi king of Ekron, and Sillibel king of Gaza.” (Translation from The Ancient Near East, Vol. 1 by James B. Pritchard, pp. 199-200.)

5. Lehi was probably born sometime around 650 B.C., to parents who had lived in Jerusalem, and he grew up living in Jerusalem “all his days.” By this time, the “refugee” home of his grandparents in the Mishneh would have been replaced with a respectable “four room house” in the now upscale Mishneh area. Lehi was likely trained as a metal smith. [Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Lehi’s House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance,” 1999, pp. 1-12, unpublished paper]

1 Nephi 1:7 He returned to his own house at Jerusalem ([Illustration] Map 6 JERUSALEM -- 700 BC to 587 BC. By 701 B.C., Jerusalem’s population was about 20,000 people. From 700 to 600 B.C., succeeding generations of the Mishneh population built their quarter into a respectable, upscale neighborhood of the capital. During king Josiah’s reign (640 B.C.) such notables as the prophetess Huldah, wife of a royal minister, lived there (see 2 Kings 22:14, where the Hebrew Mishneh is translated “college”). It is likely that the house of Lehi, a descendant of Manasseh, would have been in the Mishneh (10). Housing in the city filled all the area of the Western Hills or Mount Zion (see Zephaniah 1:10-11, where Mishneh is translated as “second”). The topographic cove in the northern wall of Hezekiah, later called the “Broad Wall” (P) was fortified with a straighter outer wall and defensive tower (U) now known as the Israelite Tower.. This is the Jerusalem of Jeremiah and Nephi, which fell to the Babylonian army in 587 B.C., when the city and Solomon’s temple were destroyed. [Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “The Development of Biblical Jerusalem,” Map 6 in a 1998 unpublished paper]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary